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What Makes Civilization? An Archaeologist’s Reflections on the Hay Festival

David Wengrow7 June 2011

I am just back from the Hay Festival, where I presented my new book What Makes Civilization: The Ancient Near East and the Future of the West (OUP, 2010) to a friendly and inquisitive audience. The book title had been suggested to me in a pub conversation by my colleague at UCL Anthropology, Danny Miller, who by coincidence was talking at the offshoot festival of music and philosophy down the road.

I have never spoken at anything like the Hay Festival before, but I had visited as a spectator, and remembered the buzz. So when the invitation to speak arrived I was delighted, and nervous. It is not your ordinary academic line up. On arrival I was ushered to the Green Room, where the likes of Simon Schama, Bob Geldof, Melvyn Bragg, and Rosie Boycott glide in and out. My own presentation was to take place at 8:30pm on Saturday evening, and clashed with a dramatisation of interrogation techniques at Guantanamo Bay starring Vanessa Redgrave and Ralph Fiennes (the latter, I suspect, being the prime motivation for my wife, Rinat, and her friend Kate tagging along).

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